Da Lat, Vietnam
48 hours in the city of “Eternal Spring"
Da Lat is a Vietnamese town situated in the Southern Central Highlands of Vietnam. It was built up in the early 1900s as a mountain playground, an escape for the French colonialists who didn’t do so well in Saigon’s oppressive heat and today is still called by many people the ‘Le Petit Paris’ also because the town features a mini-replica Eiffel Tower in its centre! But today Da Lat is a getaway holidays place for many foreigner and also other Vietnamese who like to spend their honeymoon here and take some refreshing days away from the super humid Vietnamese climate.
I arrived in Da Lat from Quy Nhon by sleeper bus in approximately 6 hours for not more than 10$ but the city is easily reachable also from Ho Chi Minh in roughly 7h.
As soon as I got in town I rented a scooter for 5$ an entire day, since many attractions are situated in the countryside and is not possible to reach them walking but as anywhere else in Vietnam if you do not feel comfortable at driving there are numerous reputable tour companies that would love to plop a helmet on you and show you around town.
Da Lat is famous for the wide variety of flowers, vegetables and fruits to come from its surrounding farmland but is also home to one of the most renowned and expensive coffe in the world: weasel coffee. My first stop of the day has been, in fact, a coffee plantation where to understand a little bit more about it. Farmers in this plantation harvest the coffee beans from weasel poo and it is not a joke. Apparently many many years ago weasel were attracted from the coffee farms and had a good taste for coffee beans making the crop slowly disappearing. At that point the farms started capturing the weasel and waited for them to digest the crop afterward they started to pick the crop up and wash it carefully to use it again as a bean coffee. Nowadays the same process is used to produce coffee, and the beans need to be dried for threee days just like regular coffee before being ready use. Its flavour it’s slightly different from normal coffee making it not enjoyable for anyone. Also the weasel coffee has created many controversial argument as the living condition of the animals are not guaranteed and many activist have created few campaign against it.
Driving 20 minute further the plantation I got to Elephant Waterfall, my second stop of the day. To reach the waterfall there is a small hike that leads thorough slippery stones to a nice viewpoint, there is also a small cave where you can secretly adventure in behind the waterdall. Once down the waterfall is so big that there are high chance that you’ll get wet standing underneath but it is completely worth it and definitely refreshing. The entrance fee is 2$ but try to park your motorbike outside otherwise they will make you pay for it.
Right next to waterfall I visited Linh An Pagoda, also known as the Happy Buddha Temple. Visiting this place was totally relaxing since many people decide to skip it I don’t know for what reason, the entrance is free! The Pagoda feature a main temple, a few minor altars and a nicely landscape grounds. The main temple is sprawling and the altar has three large Buddhas sitting on lotus leaves. But what make this place special is the Happy Buddha statute, a 50 feet tall and 35 feet wide monument. It is a massive monument to joy that lifted anyone spirit and put a big contagious smile on their faces.
Once I got outside of the pagoda I had lunch in one of the family restaurant in front of it and relaxed for a while eating one of my favourite dish in Vietnam: fried noodle with tofu and vegetable. After having my belly full I jumped again on the motorbike, heading back to the town to keep exploring.
My following destination was the True Lam Monastery, a Vietnamese largest zen monastery. The best way to reach the temple is via the cable car from Robin hill if you want to enjoy the surrounding nature an passing over picturesque farmland. The round trip ticks is about 3$, but you can also get up to the hill by motorbike as I did. The temple is a place of meditation for most of the monks and nuns who reside here and it has a different style compared to the other in town. For visitors it is a place to learn about Vietnamese Zen Buddhism and gain a little serenity thanks to the beautiful garden where you have a chance to stroll throughout.
I finished my first day enjoying the sunset at Tuyen Lam Lake, a lake created by the head waterfall of Da Tam river immersed into the forest.
Since I spent the first 24 hours discovering Da Lat countryside I decided to dedicate the second and last day to the city. As I already mentioned Da Lat it’s famous for its delicious coffee, reasons why my first stop was one of the several cafes around the town. Then was time for a little bit of craziness visiting The Crazy House, an unconventional place created by Dr.Dang Viet Nga, a Vietnamese architect that decided to built something not following the conventional rules but only her own creativity. The whole place is a giant maze with quirky sculptures and decor everywhere and actually it’s also possible to spend a night in one of the rooms. The admission to visit the Crazy House id 60.000 VND (2.60$).
Right after I headed to Linh Phuoc Pagoda, a beautiful Buddhist temple. Completed in 1952, the pagoda is often referred as the one with broken glass due to the 49 metres long dragon’s head at the entrance gate, which was meticulously pieced together from 12,000 glass bottles. The highlight of the pagoda is definitely the 18 metres high golden statue of Bodhisattva, decorated with over 600,000 flowers, but taking my time to walk around the temple I appreciated also the tiny details anywhere, such as the mosaics decorating the walls. Once inside is possible to write down wishes on a yellow piece of paper and stick them to the bell. The admission is free.
After a lunch break I visited the main attraction of the town: Ho Xuan Huong Lake, a man made lake in the middle of Da Lat. Here I walked along the lake relaxing, trying snacks from the street food stalls and observing the slow local life going on. Lam Vien Square, situated right in from the lake is another good place to get into local life as every evening it get busiest with guys skateboarding and hanging around. The public area also has a giant artichoke and sunflower building, the first one is a trendy coffee shop while the second is an underground supermarket.
Last and probably best stop of the day: Night market. Browsing through the many stalls for souvenirs, clothing, snacks, food or drinks was one of my favourite activity in Da Lat since I love visiting market. I think that the country soul lies here, between fruits, vegetable and a local smile. Highly recommend to try DAU HU NONG, hot sweet tofu pudding, a popular hot dessert made from soy beans with ginger syrup, a perfect way to warm up a cool night outside.